Missouri Girl's Prison Experiences

by Mrs. John R. Cason, Washington, D. C.

On August 5, 1864, I came to Marshall from Boonville to visit a friend; was happy in displaying a calisthenic uniform, worn at the closing exercises of our school, giving an exhibition of the different movements. A negro girl innocently reported to some Union women that I was dancing with a Rebel flag around me. The next day, August 6, about ten or fifteen Southern soldiers came into Marshall. There were Union troops there at that hour. They assisted one or more Union men in handing out their surplus goods. Several of these Southern boys rode to the gate of my friends' home, and we (there were three other girls) had a few words with the Confederates. While engaged in this little "byplay" some one shouted, "The courthouse is on fire." We looked and saw the Federal flag burning, and the whole building was destroyed in a short time. Our boys left town shortly after this, having burned besides only an old shack, a shop. By 11 AM, everything was quiet, and all were gratified that nothing worse had happened. A friend from the country invited me to spend the following Saturday and Sunday with her.

Hastily packing a carpet sack with the belongings of a girl in her eighteenth year, I left town about noon, reaching my friend's home in time for a fine Southern dinner. Afterwards, while enjoying a nap, the gentleman of the house called me and said, "You are wanted." I immediately arose and faced a Federal captain with about twenty soldiers. He gave me a military salute, with the information "Miss Bryant, you must return to town with me as my prisoner." I asked by whose authority, and he produced an order from the provost marshal, named Woodruff. I asked how I was to go, and he said: "You can ride behind one of us." I indignantly declined, when he said: "O you will have to go, and I hope you will not give us trouble."

At this time Southern people in Missouri were afraid to show much sympathy toward each other. My old friend suggested, however, that I go in his buggy. The captain remarked that one of his soldiers would drive the buggy. Accepting the situation, I returned to Marshall, and was driven to my home, occupied then by Federal officers as headquarters. Their troops, about one thousand in number, arrived in town at 12 M., August 6. After a few words with the matron, I requested to see the provost marshal. Stating to him my objection to being held a prisoner in my home, he kindly ordered a guard to escort me to a hotel. I came to Marshall with a large trunk of clothing suitable for a summer outing---my father had ample means.

On the arrival of the troops referred to, they were piloted to the house of my friend, Mrs. S___ , by some Union women. The soldiers were allowed to loot the house, destroying every article I had except a few things in a carpet sack, also everything in Mrs. S___'s house. Feather beds were emptied on the floor, and the entire contents of a well-filled pantry were emptied into this mass of feathers. On asking the officer of the day for an explanation why the soldiers had been allowed to destroy my clothing, he sarcastically replied, "You may find a few of your things;" but I didn't. With defiance and hatred in my heart, I went on to my prison (the hotel), which I was not allowed to leave but once, then with a guard. This all occurred on the 6th of August. The affair spread all over the country in a short time, reaching my parents in Boonville. My father dared not return to Marshall, but my mother did, accompanied by my teacher, hoping to explain satisfactorily why I had this calisthenic dress, which was red, white, and red with the immortal thirteen red buttons down the front of the waist. In the melee it was saved, and exhibited on the public square. The excitement it created was like a Spanish bullfight, the soldiers furious that a slip of a girl should dare to glory in those colors---the red, white, and red. My freedom was offered me provided I would take the oath, a copy of which I send herewith. I would rather have carried a ball and chain than have submitted to such humiliation.

After keeping me in Marshall one week, I was notified by the captain to prepare for a journey to Warrensburg, nearly two
days' travel by land. Imagine my consternation when, instead of a carriage, a four horse government wagon loaded with corn drove to the ladies' entrance. I protested against the journey in primitive style, but was told that I should be glad that I did not have to walk. After adieus to a few heartbroken friends, we climbed up and into this canvased wagon with an old dirty army blanket spread over the corn. All day long with no lunch and the sympathy of no one except our driverùa Southern man in disguise. The party numbered about three hundred Federal soldiers, and more than that number of negroes followed us. We arrived at a small village (Brownsville) for the night, and were placed ill a hotel with a guard at the door.

After a nice stipper and lodging, we again started on our journey. At 12:30 P.M. we arrived in Warrensburg, alighted at Col. Crittendon's headquarters, and were marched into his august presence. He did ask us to be seated. After a few questions concerning the cause of my arrest and discovering that I had refused to take the oath, I was ordered to be placed behind the bars. I said : "We are starving; may we have something to eat?" "O yes, we will see you have all yon wish." After parading us through town that hot August day, we at last reached our prison---a room about eighteen feet square, windows heavily barred, one door, with a guard's watchful eye on us every minute. Our promised dinner was a pint bowl of pickled beets, a few slices of stale baker's bread; this only to satisfy the hunger of three girls. We slept that night on the bare floor, with our carpet sacks for pillows; an army blanket was thrown over us for cover or pallet, as we chose. Our breakfast the next morning was weak tea and stale bread, a regular Yankee breakfast, minus tea, cakes, and apple butter. We remained in this place, as well as I remember, about five days; our fare about the same, though occasionally coffee was allowed.

The authorities were quite reticent as to our punishment. In ignorance we lived from day to day, fearing nothing. While here we were shocked to see a wagon driven up to our door with about forty women prisoners with babies--- one lady sixty years old, and so on. We forty odd without supper were taken that night about nine o'clock to a larger room. In a few moments a soldier asked for Miss Bryant and seven others, I forget their names. We were told to be ready at 5 AM, for a trip to St. Louis. After a sleepless, restless night, we were ready (without breakfast, but were told we should have dinner at Jefferson City), and were put on the cars. We arrived at Jefferson City at noon, and the guard gave us a cynical smile and passed on.

Arriving at St. Louis sometime that evening, we were forced to walk from the station to the St. Charles Street Prison (about two
hours' walk it seemed to me). Tired, starving, with bursting headache, we were assigned to rooms after a light supper--cup of tea, one potato, one slice of baker's bread with butter. Here I was told by old Mr. Dixon, our prison keeper, that, as my father was a prominent and well-known man, I should have privileges not accorded others. In my youthful ignorance visions of pleasure and a speedy return home soon vanished. The worst experience of my life was those two or three weeks in the St. Charles prison. The keeper was so unkind and fed us so poorly that those in authority were ashamed of him, and his removal was ordered. About the 1st of September I was taken to the famous Gratiot Street prison. For the first time since leaving Boonville on this ever-to-be-remembered visit, I met men in the Federal garb who were gentlemen. We were treated as human beings, every attention was shown us that was consistent with the rules and regulations of war.

My life there was full of sad experiences: Friends were formed with sweet girls with whom, however, we were never to meet again; ties were broken, and tears were shed over recollections of home and home fare. The bare memory of the crumbs falling from our fathers' tables caused many sighs and evil wishes on the heads of our capturers. It was there that I learned the art of
washing and ironing, the accomplishments of the kitchen, how to prepare a meal for forty or more, how to arrange a table of two boards, tin cups, tin plates, with a dish pan for soup. One great happiness for us girls was the correspondence, smuggled from the boys in gray, who were in the male prison across the street. All these experiences ended by one of the prison
authorities calling in a carriage at the prison one afternoon, stating that my father was in his office, and that he wished me to prepare immediately to accompany him home. I was ignorant as to what my friends had done to accomplish my release. I bade farewell to some sweet friends, drove with the  officer to prison headquarters, there to learn the ruse resorted to by my
father's friends. These same friends arranged for my bond of three thousand dollars. I took that ironclad oath.


I, Sue M. Bryant, of Cooper County, State of Missouri, do hereby solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the United States, and support and sustain the constitution and laws thereof; that I will maintain the national sovereignty paramount to that of all States, county, or Confederate powers; that I will discourage, discountenance, and forever oppose secession, rebellion, and the disintegration of the Federal Union; that I disclaim and denounce all faith and fellowship with the so-called Confederate armies, and pledge my honor, my property, and my life to the sacred performance of this my solemn oath of allegiance to the government of the United States of America.


Subscribed and sworn to before me this 10th day of October,

1864, at St. Louis, Mo.
Assistant Provost Marshal.

Witnesses: J. C. Galbraith, of St. Louis, Mo.; clerk P. M. G. The above is a facsimile of an oath of allegiance taken by Miss Bryant, of Marshall, Mo. (Mrs. John R. Cason, of Washington, D. C.). Miss Bryant was the daughter of Judge John W. Bryant, of Saline County, who, at the opening of the war, was one of the ablest jurists of Missouri. During his public career he had sentenced many criminals to State prisons, and of these prisoners many who had been pardoned and others having served their allotted sentence had nurtured resentment toward Judge Bryant, and the war gave them the opportunity to vent their ill-cherished feelings toward his family.

After some false rumors and the display of the Southern colors by Miss
Bryant, she was taken prisoner and sent to the famous Gratiot Street prison, of St. Louis, where she remained for months, refusing to allow any discussion as to her taking the oath. After months of lingering anxiety, illness due to ill-ventilated quarters, and the reports that her father was dangerously sick unto death through anxiety as to her safety, Miss Bryant was influenced by her government friends to take the oath and secure her freedom for the sake of her father. This she did and hurried home to find all well and that the deception had been entered into by friends to force her out of the awful confinement of prison life. Mrs. Cason assures her children that she is yet true to the principles of the South that caused her to suffer for the Confederacy.

Source: Page 506-508, Confederate Veteran, Vol. XIII, No. 10
Nashville, Tenn., November, 1905.